Last week I spoke at the European Parliament about the impact the climate crisis is having on young people’s mental health.
Rewind 1 year exactly and I was in a mental health crisis. I had burnt out from activism before but this time was different. Working in climate campaigning full time had taken its toll and one day at the end of September 2022 I got dressed for work and physically couldn’t get off the sofa. Then I came down with the flu. It was like my body was telling me it couldn’t take anymore. But that was only the beginning. The psychological fall out that followed was devastating. I had never been so low and I genuinely felt like I was spent. I was overcome with hopelessness and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had panic attacks when I thought about activism, so I knew I couldn’t continue with that right now, but I knew I would never be satisfied doing a ‘normal job’ that didn’t involve trying to make a difference. I was trapped by this success narrative that I knew I didn’t agree with but was so ingrained in my psyche that I couldn’t completely shake. Whilst my peers were moving up career ladders, I was working full time for activist groups that had recently been labelled (very falsely might I add) as domestic terrorist organisations. Except I wasn’t working for them anymore. So I was an ex-domestic terrorist, with no money, who couldn’t stop crying on the floor.
Then I started working for the Resilience Project. I knew that if the climate movement is to succeed, it needs to build resilience. It is simply not sustainable or ethical to keep burning people out at the current rate. Now it’s my job to resource other young climate change makers with the resilience they need to cope with their climate emotions and campaign sustainably. But it’s not just change makers whose mental health is being damaged by the climate crisis, a recent survey found that 84% of young people globally are experiencing climate anxiety. So when I was invited to speak at the European Parliament at the 90th Quality of Childhood Talk on Environments for children and youth and mental health, I jumped at the chance.
I knew I had an important opportunity to convey to experts and MEPs the severity of the mental health landscape that young people are inhabiting. I told them that a whole generation of young people are growing up feeling unsafe because their futures are threatened, that we have been told we are the last generation who can save the people and planet and that this is a crushing burden we have inherited. But most importantly I told them that climate anxiety is relational, which means it is reduced when policy makers take meaningful climate action so all the young people in the world need them to care about the climate crisis as much as they do.
On the train home I looked out of the window and reflected on how surreal it was to have gone on such a journey in just one year. Whilst it is exciting of course to have the opportunity to speak at such an institution, I am mostly proud of myself for not giving up. There have been many times in the last year when I have considered that maybe I’m just not cut out for this anymore, but I have proved to myself that I just needed to find my niche and be kind to myself. I wish the same for the other young people who are giving their everything to this fight.